The Nashville Kats don't score a lot of points and the New Jersey Gladiators hadn't given up many points in their last two games.
That meant every possession was crucial Thursday night. And the Kats, in keeping with the evening's "Survivor" theme, held on for a 38-28 victory in front of 8,804 fans at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The Kats raised their record to 3-1 heading into a rematch with the Orlando Predators May 13 at 2 p.m. The Gladiators are winless in four games.
"I didn't think this game was going to be easy," said Kats coach Pat Sperduto. "I knew they would be good. As I said before they have gotten better every week. I knew they would come after us on defense. New Jersey is going to be good down the line."
The Kats will take a couple of days off, but Sperduto wants them to think about this game during the down time.
"We're still not a good football team," Sperduto said. "We still have to work on our protection, sustaining our blocks and putting consistent pressure on the quarterback."
It was a night of firsts for many of the Nashville Kats. Ron Carpenter and Steve Johnson, who was making his first appearance ever in a Kats uniform, found themselves on the offensive side of the ball for the first time since their high school days.
"I'm a defensive back, not a wide receiver," said Carpenter, who had only one catch in Arena play but made four for 32 yards. "I confirmed what I already knew and that was that I could catch the ball. Once I got into the flow I felt comfortable.
"I played receiver, defensive back and returned kicks. I did a little bit of everything and that's all right. But I'm going to have to get on the bike and do some riding. Playing both ways got me tired."
But when it came time to score, Kats quarterback Andy Kelly went to the old reliables in the first half. A 20-yard pass on the first drive in the corner of the end zone to Tyronne Jones started the scoring. Kelly would also hit Jarrick Hillery for a pair of first half TD passes from seven and 10 yards.
In the second half rookie fullback-linebacker Travis Reece scored his first Arena touchdown with a three-yard run at 13:05 of third quarter. The Kats gave themselves some breathing room at 2:14 of the third quarter when Kelly found Jones in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, a nine-yarder, for a 35-21 advantage.
"Without Cory Fleming and L.C. Stevens we have to go for quickness close to the goal line and Jarrick and Tyronne are my targets," said Kelly who completed 23-of-34 pass attempts for 226 yards and also threw his first interception of the season. "Jarrick had a good game. Tyronne is quick and tough."
Defensively, the Kats held the Gladiators to only seven points in the second half. It was a taste of revenge of sorts as New Jersey quarterback Connell Maynor won MVP honors for helping the Orlando Predators beat the Kats last year in the Arena Bowl.
"We came out in the first half and we had a couple of mistakes," said defensive specialist Adrian Lunsford who snared an interception in the second quarter. "Then in the second half we came out and we got those mistakes corrected.
"The interception came from the pressure up front. I had the guy covered, but we got some good pressure and the ball kind of fluttered out of his hands and I went ahead and took a chance. I tried to dive and catch it and I did. I couldn't get off the ground because my shoe came off."
Maynor is a double threat as a passer and a runner, but the Kats made some changes in their rushing lanes to slow him down in the second half.
"Maynor's a tough quarterback because he can move," Lunsford said. "He has a good, strong arm and he's got a lot of mobility. When he starts running around out there you've got to cover a little longer and that makes it tough."
Kats lineman James Baron said the defensive plan was a simple one in the see-saw game.
"We just wanted to come out and play really aggressive," Baron said. "We wanted to try to get some pressure on their quarterback. A strong pass rush is always going to make a difference in a football game."
The Most Valuable Player was Darryl Hammond with a team leading seven catches for 72 yards and six tackles (four unassisted). Hillery won the Ironman Award with five receptions for 46 yards and two TDs and two tackles.
Wide receiver-defensive back Freddie Scott, defensive specialist Robert Davis, fullback-linebacker Rupert Grant and lineman Hunter Adams did not dress for the game.
Davis, who played in last week's victory over Florida, has seen limited practice time and needs more work on his conditioning.
ALIVE AND KICKING
Kats kicker Steve McLaughlin came into the game as the league's leading scorer with 40 points, missed two of four extra point attempts but connected on a 45-yard field goal in the first half and a 39-yarder midway through the fourth quarter, his only attempts.